Vietnamese dragon dance
The Vietnamese borrowed the dragon dance (Múa rồng) from Chinese culture relatively recently. Unicorn dance and lion dance came to the Vietnamese culture even later. Initially, the dragon dance was performed only on Tet (the Vietnamese New Year), but now street dancers with a hand dragon entertain the audience on every celebration.
The history of the Chinese dragon dance in Vietnam dates back to 1944-1945, when Mr. Chang Bu, the owner of a soap factory, organized a dance team among young workers and adopted this bright Chinese tradition for the Tet festival. Currently the dragon dance in Vietnam is a popular entertainment.
The dragons for dance are divided into three types:
- silk dragon (made of fabric, tightly attached to stiff sticks in the hands of dancers);
- round dragon (made of hard paper, has a round and long belly);
- hard dragon (used only as a portable attribute, but the dancers move separately from it).
While a unicorn or lion dance can be performed by a couple of people, dragon dances always involve numerous dancers. It takes at least 6 man, and sometimes up to 20-30, to control a dragon and visualize its movement and spirit. The participants in this group dance need long practice to achieve mastery in the performance of simultaneous movements of the dragon.
The Vietnamese not only adopted Chinese movements, but also began to add their own elements to the dragon dance. For example, acrobatic stunts in dragon dances are considered traditionally Vietnamese. Sometimes young acrobats jump on high poles or perform constructions in the form of living pyramids, which is very pleasing to the audience.
Usually, the dragon, unicorn and lion dances involve a Vietnamese character named Mr. Dia (óng Địa). He is also a part of a purely Vietnamese tradition (he doesn’t exist in China). Mr. Dia is the Vietnamese spirit of good luck and, concurrently, the home. Every Vietnamese family altar includes a figure of this deity (all Vietnamese worship ancestral spirits). Mr. Dia in the dancers show is a bald character in a grinning mask with a large belly (stuffed with fabric). Mr. Dia carries a paper fan and waves it in the audience’s face.
The Vietnamese believe that Mr. Dia is the embodiment of Maitreya Buddha, who is always cheerful and gentle. Legend has it that Buddha incarnated as a man and defeated a monster that lived in the sea and was destroying coastal settlements. Maitreya turned the monster into a herbivore and showed that evil can become good. In street dances, Mr. Dia waves a fan and it symbolizes the lulling of evil forces, the spread of harmony and love between all living beings. The Vietnamese believe that Mr. Dia loves sweets most of all, so offerings to him are often made in the form of sweet candies.